Someone in antiquity said, "Philosophy bakes no bread."
This famous assertion raises concerns about philosophy's practical relevance and value. I remember my father's quizzical look when I informed him that I was studying the subject in college.
My father grew up during the Great Depression, worked hard as a West Virginia coal miner, and served his country as combat soldier in the Second World War. These tough experiences shaped in him a very pragmatic view of life. At first he questioned my choice to study a discipline that seemed abstract and speculative (not to mention a field that doesn't pay all that well). However, being part of an American infantry division that had liberated a Nazi concentration camp, my dad knew that ideas (and especially ideologies) mattered and had inevitable consequences. He, therefore, came to approve of my academic studies.
What is Philosophy?
In his excellent primer, Questions That Matter, Ed Miller defines philosophy as "the attempt to think rationally and critically about the most important questions." Traditional philosophy has been interpreted as the pursuit of wisdom, knowledge, and truth. Philosophers are primarily interested in the following six areas:
- Metaphysics: The study of the ultimate nature, structure, and characteristics of reality.
- Epistemology: The study of the origin, nature, limits, and validity of knowledge.
- Ethics: The study of the origin, nature, meaning, and criteria of moral goodness.
- Value Theory: The study of what people generally value (other than moral values) and why.
- Aesthetics: The study of beauty and how people respond to it (taste).
- Logic: The study of the principles of correct reasoning and argumentation.
While few philosophers become financially wealthy (and the job market can be competitive), there are very good reasons to value the study of philosophy, especially for Christians.
The Importance of Philosophy for Believers
- Philosophy Promotes Critical Thinking
Being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) means that human beings have unique intellectual abilities. And the Bible teaches that followers of Christ should use the gift of their mind in their love and service to God (Matthew 22:37). Furthermore, intellectual virtues such as discernment, reflection, testing, analysis, and renewal of the mind are biblical imperatives (Acts 17:11; Roman 12:2; 1 Corinthians 14:29; Colossians 2:8; 1Thessalonians 5:21).
The study of philosophy, like no other discipline, exposes a person to the important areas of critical thinking and the principles of argumentation. Thinking clearly, carefully, and reflectively are the benefits of studying logic–one of the critical fields of philosophy.
Pursuing the "life of the mind" to the glory of God is an important component in the Christian's overall devotion. And the study of philosophy can uniquely serve to prepare the believer for intellectual engagement.
Look for further discussion on the importance of philosophy next week.
For more about philosophy and its benefits to the Christian, see A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.